In honor of Veterans' Day this Wednesday, sharing my blog from 2016: Heroes of Yesterday - I’ve read books or stories from virtually every war in which men and women of our nation, including my family and ancestors, have been involved. Their sacrifices have deeply touched my heart as I live a life of freedom, a blessing either limited or unknown to so many elsewhere in this world. Yet, our families have not known a loss in war during this past century.
Recently, friends of ours shared some treasured family papers with me. Before the reign of Covid-19, Gene Dougherty would visit my husband, Ed, while I attended an afternoon Bible study with his wife, Lena. The spring of 2016, several boxes of treasures were given to Lena by a relative, mementoes she never knew her mother had kept. They included old photographs and newspaper clippings. What especially touched Lena’s heart were family photos and letters, including from her brother, Glen, who had died in World War II.
Lena’s mother, Edna, had saved numerous clippings of the war from a local Binghamton newspaper. Here were reports of a war’s ups and downs, of the efforts of battle-worn troops, of men who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and of soldiers who returned home safely. Also included were touching reports by Ernie Pyle, a reporter embedded with troops in the European theater and later in the South Pacific.
Pyle was a beloved reporter in the U.S. and abroad. He had a way with words, evoking an empathy from his readers for the servicemen he wrote about. A reporter who opened his readers’ eyes, he put a personal touch to the effects of war, and to the emotions of hard-won battles for freedom’s sake. I remember him well… no, I did not grow up during the war, but had purchased and read his book, “Brave Men,” as a teen. Perusing through Lena’s papers, I knew I had to take that book off my bookshelf and refresh my memory.
Then, as I continued to read through Lena’s papers, thoughts and emotions swirled around and the following poem began taking shape. I have always been grateful to those men and women who have joined the military to protect our freedoms and to gain the same for the oppressed around the world. But to think about each one who has ever gone off to war, to remember them as their family knew and loved them so well… is to contemplate the little child who ran into the loving arms of parents with boundless energy, full of love and joy… the playing and learning he or she did under their wise and watchful eyes… the teen coming to terms with adolescent struggles… the young adult who emerged from military basic training with a new sense of purpose… the seasoned soldier whose loyalty to his or her unit proved a perseverance and bravery they never thought they had… and the final tribute paid to one who gave his or her all that others might live… is to contemplate the heart and soul of each one who left behind a sweetheart or spouse, beloved parents and siblings, and even children… the one forever remembered for a life interrupted, of the great sacrifice made, and of the legacy now carried in the heart and soul of those who have grieved their loss.
As we celebrate Veterans’ Day this week, may this simple poem evoke in you a heart of thanks for all who have served, or paid the ultimate sacrifice in any war. Without a willingness to put their lives on the line for the sake of freedom, we would not be enjoying our “…land of the brave and home of the free.”
Thank you to each of you who has served in the military, and to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Heroes of Yesterday
Linda A. Roorda
Where tyranny reigns evil’s at the helm
As the young and free who know only peace
With faces brave must enter the fray
In the fight for rights we take for granted.
Responsibility trains boys into men
With troop cohesion, a unit’s tight bond
To honor and hold each life in their care
For freedom’s defense and the rights of all.
Orders to battle and the hell of war
The call to arms which tests the mettle
For within each heart lies the chance to prove
The value of truth to fail or succeed.
From red alert to general quarters
Emotions run deep in calm before strife
Of imminent fight and future yearnings
Always thinking, “If I get through…alive…”*
The sounds of war above stealth and fear
The zing of bullets and bombs that explode
Challenges met, overcome with courage
Proving capable the common valor.
Back home they reflect, living fear and dread
Loved ones waiting for word from afar
A card or letter received with relief
Until the knock comes when time stands still.
The letters home that ceased too soon
As horrors of war burn deep in the soul
Who’ll be the judge at the end of combat
What the heart ponders to serve and protect…
To gain advantage with success for peace
To hold these truths that all may live free
To lift the spirit and rebuild from loss
As we remember peace has a cost.
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May not be reproduced without permission of author.
*”Brave Men,” Ernie Pyle, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1944, p.5